“Give that coach across the sideline a vote who he doesn’t want to play, it’ll start with us. I promise you he (Nick Saban) doesn’t want to play us.” These are the words that Kirby Smart said in his postgame press conference after falling to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship on Saturday. It sounds crazy that someone would challenge Coach Saban with that, but in all reality, Smart may have a point.
The 2018 SEC Championship was another great game between Alabama and Georgia. Many believed that there wasn’t a team in the country who could hang for four quarters with the Crimson Tide. However, the Bulldogs gave them everything they wanted; for three quarters at least. Georgia led for the first 54 minutes and 41 seconds. An Alabama touchdown with 5:19 remaining tied the game. Then the defending national champions took the lead for the first time in the game with just over a minute remaining.
The first quarter saw a battle of defenses until Georgia’s Quarterback, Jake Fromm found Isaac Nauta for a 20-yard touchdown. Four seconds into the second quarter Alabama’s Josh Jacobs rushed from the one-yard line to tie the game at seven apiece. Georgia was able to get the lead back when D’Andre Swift scored on a nine-yard run. They extended their lead to 14 just three minutes later when Swift scored from 11 yards out.
Just when it seemed like Georgia had everything under control with a 14-point lead, Alabama was able to drive down to the one-yard line. On a crazy play Josh Jacobs fumbled as he was going to for the score. Jacobs was able to recover it just long enough to be considered a touchdown for the Crimson Tide. The score pulled them within a touchdown before the half.
Georgia’s defense was able to hold the Tide to start the second half and then their offense drove down the field for a touchdown in only three plays. Fromm threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Riley Ridley to put the Bulldogs back up by 14 points. A mistake on Georgia’s next possession seemed to be when everything changed. The sure-legged Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 30-yard field goal after the offense had driven down to the Alabama 13-yard line.
The Plot Thickens
Tua Tagovailoa didn’t have his greatest performance on Saturday. Coming into the game he had only thrown two interceptions the entire season. The Bulldogs were able to pick him off twice on Saturday. He only completed 10 of his 25 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown.
Back in January, when the Tide and Bulldogs faced off in the National Championship game, Jalen Hurts had an awful first half completing three of eight passes for 21 yards. He was replaced at halftime by Tagovailoa and has been the backup since. The SEC Championship on Saturday gave fans a plot twist that no one expected. With just less than 11 minutes left in the game and Alabama trailing Georgia by a touchdown, Tagovailoa had his ankle stepped on by an offensive lineman and went down. He had to be helped off the field and in a “déjà vu” moment, Hurts entered the game.
Hurts’ Legacy Continues
Just like Tagovailoa did in the National Championship game, Hurts entered the game trailing Georgia and stepped up to the moment. Hurts capped off the long drive that Tagovailoa started with a pass to the corner of the end zone to Jerry Jeudy to tie the game at 28 with 5:19 remaining. Georgia got the ball back and made it to the Alabama 48-yard line before being forced to punt. This is where Kirby Smart didn’t live up to his last name. On 4th and 11, he called a fake punt and had the ball snapped directly to backup quarterback Justin Fields. Fields was stopped, and the Tide gained possession with just over three minutes remaining.
Hurts orchestrated a five play, two-minute drive and took it upon himself to scramble for a 15-yard touchdown with 1:04 remaining giving the Tide their first lead of the game. Georgia had one last opportunity but failed to convert on a hail mary as time expired and the Tide rolled at a 35-28 victory.
Now We Wait
All that can be done now is wait. Wait to see who else will be in the College Football Playoff (CFP). Alabama is a guaranteed lock at number one. The question remains who the other three will be. Notre Dame is undefeated but does not play a conference championship game. Clemson remained perfect on the season with a win over Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship. With Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame all three undefeated, they’re all but guaranteed in the top four. The most questionable will be position number four.
Georgia did everything right to beat Alabama on Saturday except one major thing; beat Alabama. The Bulldogs controlled the first three quarters and showed that they are a team that is worthy and potentially able to dethrone the Tide. The question is, are they worthy to be placed ahead of the Big12 Champion Oklahoma Sooners who currently sit at number five or the Big10 Champion Ohio State Buckeyes? The Buckeyes have a black eye when it comes to their only loss of the season in which the Purdue Boilermakers absolutely destroyed the Buckeyes. That will come in to play in the selection process.
With all things considered it comes down to the selection committee and whether they think that Georgia deserves another shot at the Tide or if the one-loss Sooners should take aim at Alabama. Either way, Alabama’s biggest opponent right now is themselves. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers sang it best when they sang “The waiting is the hardest part.” For many teams, complacency can set in, but Alabama will be ready for whomever has the misfortune of facing off against the Crimson Tide in the first round of the College Football Playoff.